(spoilers for Season 1 and these episodes)
After the pandemic began, production on various movies and shows had to cease. Some were able to restart under certain guidelines, but HBO’s Euphoria, the widely talked about and acclaimed teen drama from Sam Levinson, took a unique approach. The decision was made to create two episodes that would act as a bridge between Season 1 and the delayed Season 2. Both episodes were written around the new shooting rules that the Pandemic necessitated, with the first one especially reflecting that. They aired in December and January and are available via Sky Atlantic.
Season 1 of Euphoria depicted the troubled lives of several teenagers, with the main focus being on drug addict Rue (Zendaya) but also going to various other characters as well. It was visually breath-taking, combined reality and fantasy flawlessly at points, had great characters and drama, explored dark and troubling issues in a manner that was convincing and respectable, had excellent acting and Levinson’s personal story of drug addiction that was weaved into the narrative was part of an overall feeling of actually reflecting the real world unlike a lot of other teen media. These two episodes manage to continue this high quality and perhaps even raise the bar.
Given how Season 1 ended on a painful separation between Rue and trans girl Jules at a train station, these two episodes deal with Rue and Jules (Hunter Schafer) respectively. “Trouble Don’t Last Always” is the first special and it focuses on Rue and her drug sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) conversing in a diner. The removal of the show’s stylised nature and focus on several characters, as well as the single location is a change of pace, but it allows the dialogue and performances to be given more weight and time to sink in. Imagine a single great scene extended to an hour, but one that is far stronger because of the extension.
The dialogue itself is fantastic, exploring Rue’s opinions and thought process, in the process revealing just how broken she is and how she intends to kill herself. Ali’s character is also giving a huge amount of exploration, going from a simple mentor figure to a man with a history of pain that is trying to help Rue through hers. It almost feels like an older version of Sam Levinson speaking to his past self and even when it moves to broader topics it rarely feels like filibustering, as one could buy that Ali would react the way he does to that Nike slogan. It is easily some of the most emotional material in the show so far and it will most likely speak to you in some way. Finally, the acting is fantastic. Zendaya shows that her Emmy win was definitely deserved, and Colman Domingo gives his wiseness a lot of personality and soulfulness. It might test the patience of someone who wants more energy and variation, but this first special is maybe the strongest single episode to date.
As for the second special, “F Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob”, it follows Jules in a therapy session, talking about her inner thoughts and reflecting on the past. It admittedly is not as strong as the previous special because the stream of consciousness storytelling makes for a structure that is a bit all over the place. That being said, the actual pieces are very strong, not only fleshing out Jules as a character the most since Episode 4’s backstory, but also turning elements of Season 1 on their head.
The direction returns to a more stylised tone, but this helps us get into Jules’s head and leads to some very effective sequences, the best being the opening montage (a close-up of Jules’s eye with clips from Season 1 reflected into them) that acts as a recap of Season 1 from Jules’s perspective that is beautiful on its own, but even more emotional with Lorde’s Liability playing over it. Other sequences are powerful too, like the nightmare of Jules seeing Rue going into the bathroom mid-coitus or some of the grittier visuals. The acting from the talented and unbelievably beautiful Hunter Schafer is her best in the series so far, particularly during some of the more emotionally intense sequences.
As for the writing, it digs into the head of Jules and uses this therapy setting to openly discuss not only Jules’s desires in terms of her gender identity, but also her past relationships with her mother and Rue, which both parallel each other in a way that changes the Jules/Rue relationship to something that makes Jules’s perspective more sympathetic. There is also the relationship she had with “Tyler” the false identity that villainous jock Nate used to catfish her and how the totally digital impersonal interactions they had were strong enough to where she still admits to being in love with that persona, even though it was just a smokescreen. Finally, the last scene surprises in skipping to Rue and Jules meeting again and talking, then breaks your heart by cutting it off and leaving you hanging. All of these sequences are impactful, entertaining and interesting.
HBO’s Euphoria is already Sam Levinson’s most popular creation, but if it keeps up the quality of these specials, it will be his magnum opus. The wait for Season 2 will be long, but hopefully, it will be worthwhile.